Crisis in FTAA Negotiations Triggers Secret, Invitation-Only FTAA "Mini-Ministerial" Meeting at Exclusive Chesapeake Bay Enclave (6/12/03)

June 12

Crisis in FTAA Negotiations Triggers Secret, Invitation-Only FTAA "Mini-Ministerial" Meeting at Exclusive Chesapeake Bay Enclave

Bad Process, Bad Results: Session to Determine Scope, Deadline for FTAA Excludes Half of the Nations in the Hemisphere

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A "mini-ministerial" including only 15 of the 34 nations involved in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations marks a new low in controversial talks that already have faced attacks from legislators and citizens from around the hemisphere as lacking transparency and inclusiveness, Public Citizen said today.

The United States has pushed the FTAA talks to be an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) while other countries in the hemisphere have raised concerns about the NAFTA model. Negotiations have become gridlocked.

"The Bush administration planned to push the FTAA through by dictation, not negotiation, to ensure an agreement that suited U.S. corporate interests but no one else. Now, though, the FTAA has become a real negotiation, with other countries making demands on the U.S. that are giving the administration political heartburn," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. "When the U.S. won’t cut tariffs and other barriers for FTAA partners, it’s difficult to blame the current FTAA gridlock on other countries being protectionist."

An emergency meeting to begin today at the Wye River Conference Center in Maryland was called by Brazilian and U.S. trade officials following U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick’s visit to Brasilia last month. The United States and Brazil have been appointed co-chairs of the FTAA negotiation as they head toward their target date of December 2004 for completion of a trade agreement that would extend NAFTA to 34 more countries.

Brazil had offered a proposal to ensure that the deadline is met by scheduling resolution of the many thorny issues inherent in the talks to three different venues: the World Trade Organization (WTO); in meetings between the United States and the four MERCOSUR nations (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay); and in meetings of all 34 nations involved in the FTAA negotiations.

The Brazilian proposal to move issues such as intellectual property and procurement to the WTO mirrored U.S. demands that certain issues such as agriculture and anti-dumping not be negotiated at the FTAA but rather moved to WTO talks. The Bush administration, however, said that it made no agreement to narrow the FTAA agenda by moving some issues to other negotiating venues.

At the Wye summit, Zoellick, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and 13 other invited trade ministers will grapple with the FTAA’s scope and timing in advance of the formal, annual FTAA Ministerial that is to be held in Miami in five months and to be hosted by the Bush administration.

Countries invited to the Wye FTAA mini Ministerial include: co-chairs the United States and Brazil, Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay. One nation omitted from the Wye invitation is Bolivia, which is chair of the FTAA Committee of Government Representatives on the Participation of Civil Society.

"Why should Bolivia bother with the FTAA when we and half the countries are shut out of the real talks?" asked Pablo Salon of Fundacion Salon, a La Paz-based policy group that monitors the Bolivian government. "So some countries will write a blueprint and shove it down our throats in Miami? It is outrageous and undemocratic."

Public Citizen joined more than 20 U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGO) in requesting an opportunity to meet with trade ministers during the Wye mini-ministerial. In a letter to Zoellick, the NGOs stated, "In the interests of greater transparency and ensuring that the expansion of trade in the Americas will benefit working women and men, small and medium-scale businesses, farmers and indigenous peoples across the hemisphere, we hope you will arrange for an open civil society meeting with trade ministers when they visit Maryland."

"The public and civil society groups have been shut out of the FTAA talks since they began," said Wallach. "Now half the countries in the hemisphere are pushed to the side while a blueprint for the Miami Ministerial is drawn by a select few."

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